"You know how I used to tell you about Van Buren scoring that touchdown back in '48?....That touchdown got me through thirty years at that factory…"
-- Frank Papale, from the movie "Invincible."
And, indeed, there it is, in this iconic photograph....Steve Van Buren, still the greatest player in the 78-year history of the Philadelphia Eagles, scoring the only touchdown in the so-called "Blizzard Bowl," the 1948 NFL Championship Game in which the Birds downed the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 at North Philadelphia's (even-then run-down) Shibe Park. It was the first time that Eagles, a sorry franchise for most of their first 15 years, were the champions of pro football; little did the 28,864 fans who braved the elements that Sunday realize that Philadelphia's beloved men in green would win the title only twice more in the next 63 years (including the following year in a monsoon at the L.A. Coliseum, when Van Buren added to his legend by running for 198 yards).
It happened 63 years ago today -- December 19, 1948.
I'm looking to find people who were there that day -- maybe your grandfather or your dad or just maybe even you...yes, you.
Why? For the last 51 weeks, I've been obsessed with the story of how the Eagles won their first title in such a hellacious snowstorm. You surely remember the trigger for all of this -- the blizzard of Dec. 26, 2010, when the Eagles, with their multi-multi-million-dollar glitzy Lincoln Financial Field and all the technology of the 21st Century, wimped out and postponed a nationally televised game against the Vikings. I wrote a scathing front-page article attacking the move that was famously adopted by Ed Rendell, who called America "a nation of wusses" for not playing in the snow. At the time, there was much talk of the 1948 game and of Van Buren (who, coincidentally, turned 90 in a Lancaster nursing home that same week). That's understandable. What a metaphor for the last three-quarters of a century! How did pro football's "Greatest Generation" -- children of the Great Depression who put their games on hold to win a World War -- stage a football game in a raging blizzard -- and win. A few of you may know the remarkable backstory of the 1948 Eagles, but if you don't...let's just say for now it's an even better story than you might imagine.
Today, I'm thrilled to announce a multi-pronged journalistic project based on the Eagles and their 1948 championship win. In mid-to-late January, in that endless period running up to the Super Bowl, I plan to publish an Amazon Kindle Single, my second one, retelling the events of Dec. 19. 1948. In addition, I am expecting that some pieces of the story -- including an important and poignant epilogue -- will appear in the pages of the Daily News and (hopefully) the new Sports Week. Just this weekend, LeSean "Shady" McCoy's feat in breaking Van Buren's 66-year-old Eagles single season touchdown record (in more games, a la Babe Ruth and Roger Maris) has a new generation of fans trying to grasp the epic accomplishments of the Birds who played before most of us were born. I'm hoping this will be the definitive accounting of that great 1948 world championship team.
Despite the passage of so much time, I suspect there are at least a couple hundred fans who were at 21st and Lehigh that afternoon who are still here to tell the tale. I want so very much to hear from them. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number at the paper is 215-854-2957. Let me know, because if you were a part of that story on Dec. 19, 1948, I think you'll want to be part of this story, too.
(Note: If you watch the video below, I should point out that the long Eagles touchdown pass -- to end Jack Ferrante on the first play from scrimmage -- was called back because Ferrante was offsides. Didn't want anyone to get confused!)